It may not be the right thing, but there’s a rule of thumb that if you fight in your opponent’s hometown, you have to decisively beat him.
Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and his fan base, along with a lot of people who have no dog in the hunt, felt Thompson was robbed of a decision against a much-larger Darren Till in Saturday’s five-round main event in Till’s home city of Liverpool, England.
After a week where Till showed up far above weight, he was only able to cut to 174.5 pounds, missing his allowable variance by 3.5 pounds. Till looked like he easily could have been 200 pounds inside the cage at UFC Liverpool after weighing in a second time at 188 on the afternoon of the fight. Whatever the number was, he probably had 15 or more pounds on Thompson when he stepped into the cage.
The controversy over fighters missing weight continues to be a bigger story than ever this year. The move to early morning weigh-ins has resulted in weight issues in key fights becoming an almost weekly story. The other sad fact is the fighters missing weight are continually winning and usually going into the cage with a huge size advantage.
Saturday exemplifies the problem. After the injury to Gunnar Nelson, as far as real star power went, UFC Liverpool became a one-fight show. And for the local fans, Till was the star. You could say that UFC should not allow fighters who come in so far above weight to fight, and there is a valid argument. But losing Till would have been a disaster for the local market. And no matter what the size and weight issue is, the idea of pulling someone from a show without giving them the chance to make weight still isn’t something that doctors have been doing. If the bigger fighter can keep himself out of the hospital, and the smaller fighter doesn’t say “no,” the fight is happening. And most of the time it is the smaller fighter whose career suffers from a loss in a fight where they were the one who had the discipline to make weight, and then got screwed in the process.
With Thompson, it was a double whammy, since 89 percent of the reporters, based on scorecards covered at MMA Decision, felt he had won the fight. But the only three that mattered all scored it for Till, with both judges Andy Roberts and Paul Sutherland going 49-46 in favor of Till.
Ultimately, it was one of those fights that could have been scored either way, although 49-46 for Till seemed shocking. Aside from round five, which Till clearly won, the other rounds were close, even if it appeared that Thompson edged most of them out. But the judges were cageside with fans who reacted much louder when Till landed than when Thompson did.
Thompson seemed to be the guy dictating the fight, even if Till was moving forward. He landed the cleaner shots, but the eking out rounds strategy was a risky one under the circumstances, and it cost him the fight.
The question is how the matchmaking goes next. If Till, who himself said he felt he shouldn’t be in the title hunt just yet, due to missing weight, is booked as if he won and in a stronger matchup than Thompson, he was nonetheless rewarded for something that by all rights he should have been punished for.
More than ever, the idea that if someone misses weight, comes in with a size edge, and then gets rewarded with a positive career trajectory and a win bonus, seems wrong. Yet, with Thompson losing, and losing a fight that wasn’t that exciting, he’s also likely to find himself being negatively affected.
Let’s look at where things should go coming out of Sunday’s fights with the extenuating circumstances.
DARREN TILL — At 17-0-1, Till has the record to go for the welterweight title. With wins over Donald Cerrone and Thompson, under normal circumstances that should be his direction.
But the division seemingly should first have champion Tyron Woodley returning from shoulder surgery to face the winner of the interim title fight with Rafael dos Anjos (28-9) vs. Colby Covington (13-1) that happens on June 9 in Chicago.
Under normal circumstances, I’d have Till facing Kamaru Usman (13-1) for the next title shot. But that’s too much of a reward. Because of that, I’d go with Till against the loser of the dos Anjos vs. Covington fight.
STEPHEN THOMPSON — Thompson (14-3-1) should next go against Usman in a No. 1 contenders fight. Plus, on paper, this a fight in which Usman can’t be anything but aggressive with his wrestling since he’ll likely have a hard time standing given Thompson’s unique style.
NEIL MAGNY — Magny (21-7) quickly finished late replacement Craig White (14-8) in the first round. Magny asked for Usman, but Usman should be higher on the pecking order. Magny instead should face either Jorge Masvidal (32-13) or Robbie Lawler (28-12).
MAKWAN AMIRKHANI — The self-proclaimed Mr. Finland survived nearly being stopped in the first round to score his biggest UFC win to date over Jason Knight. Amirkhani (14-3) should next face either Mirsad Bektic (12-1) or Calvin Kattar (18-3).
TOM BREESE — Breese was looking at being possibly one of the UFC’s signature stars in the U.K. at one point. He had a 10-0 record and was 24 years old. But then he struggled against Sean Strickland, losing a split decision, and Sunday’s fight was his first in nearly two years.
Saturday’s fight with four-time Olympian Daniel Kelly (13-4) couldn’t have gone better, as Breese scored a first-round stoppage when a punch caught Kelly in the eye and it was quickly over.